Background: Acute exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are commonly seen and difficult to treat. We sought to determine the bronchodilator efficacy of magnesium sulfate in this situation, as this compound is helpful in acute asthma.
Methods: Subjects who came to either of two Veterans Affairs emergency departments were randomized in a double-blind fashion to receive either 1.2 g of magnesium sulfate or placebo over 20 minutes after they first received albuterol, 2.5 mg by nebulization. Peak expiratory flow, dyspnea scores, arterial hemoglobin oxygen saturation by pulse oximetry, maximal inspiratory and expiratory pressures, and vital signs were monitored for 45 minutes after the start of magnesium sulfate or placebo treatment.
Results: Seventy-two individuals were studied. The peak expiratory flow increased 16.6% +/- 27.7% (mean +/- SD) in both groups after the initial albuterol treatment, from 121.2 +/- 55.7 L/min to 136.9 +/- 63.9 L/min. The peak expiratory flow increased from 136.7 +/- 69.7 L/min at the start of the infusion to 162.3 +/- 76.6 L/min at 30 minutes and 161.3 +/- 78.7 L/min at 45 minutes with magnesium sulfate treatment. The peak expiratory flow was 137.0 +/- 58.6 L/min on initiation of the intravenous infusion, 143.0 +/- 72.7 L/min at 30 minutes, and 143.3 +/- 70.5 L/min at 45 minutes in the placebo group. The difference in peak expiratory flow from initiation of the infusion to 30 and 45 minutes later (calculated as means of the 30- and 45-minute values) was significantly different for the two groups (25.1 +/- 35.7 L/min vs 7.4 +/- 33.3 L/min; P = 0.3); the difference was also significant when expressed as percentage increase (22.4% +/- 28.5% vs 6.1% +/- 24.4%; P = .01). There was a statistically nonsignificantly trend toward a reduced need for hospitalization in the magnesium sulfate group as compared with the placebo group (28.1% vs 41.9%; P = .25). There were no significant changes in the other parameters with either treatment.
Conclusion: Magnesium sulfate, 1.2 g over 20 minutes after beta-agonist administration, is safe and modestly efficacious in the treatment of acute exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and its bronchodilator effect is greater than that of a beta-agonist given alone and lasts beyond the period of magnesium sulfate administration.